Book Review - a must read

I just finished an incredibly important book, and hope others will read it.  The book is called, “The Invisible Wounds of War: Coming Home from Iraq and Afghanistan” by Marguerite Guzman Bouvard.  I figured it would be interesting stories about returning veterans, but it was so much more than that.  It was really a call to action for all of us.  

Military spouses and family members, and the vets themselves, will feel validated and heard as their see their lives reflected in the pages of this book.  And it’s a story that needs to be told. 

The first chapter gives a detailed explanation of the timeline, and many of the intricate politics involved, in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  While this is important information, I have to admit I skimmed it and will need to reread it later, because I was anxious to get to the stories of the vets themselves.

One of the many factors in the high rate of veteran suicides (18 per day) is the understandable reluctance of vets to ask for help.  Military culture discourages vets from seeking the help they need, not only by characterizing those who ask for help as “weak” or “failures,” but also by penalizing those who come forward with denial of promotions, even in some cases dishonorable discharge.  Over and over the author heard fear of reprisal from vets who desperately needed life-saving help.  When they finally did ask for help, they were shrugged off, put on long waiting lists, or just handed sleeping pills.  We as a society have a responsibility to challenge the mindset that stigmatizes PTSD, or face even more suicides. 

The book is also a reminder that we have a war going on right now, which many people have managed to tune out.  Military personnel are only 1% of the population (yet 20% of suicides), and they tend to be ignored by the media.  This is seen as a huge betrayal by military families, who are resentful that deaths rarely merit more than a mention on the ticker at the bottom of the TV news.  They are also sick to death of hearing how their loved one “volunteered,” as if that somehow invalidates the suffering and the need for treatment of PTSD, traumatic brain injury, hearing damage from IED’s, etc.  

Prepare to be outraged at the lack of services and support for these people who stepped up to serve their country.  Prepare to be horrified and saddened by their stories, their poetry, and their pain.  Prepare to be deeply touched by the determination of their families to advocate for their loved ones and for all vets.  Most of all, prepare to feel a deep sense of compassion, and a responsibility and commitment to spread the word about these injustices.  The book is filled with resources, and the names and information about many programs which are working innovatively to help our vets.

Every young person who is even remotely considering a military career should read this book, especially young women.  It should be required reading for high school students to help counteract the lies told by recruiters.  They deserve to know what they are really getting into.

Tomorrow I’m reluctantly returning this book to the library, but its words will echo in my mind for a long, long time.  I plan to buy the book, and reference it frequently.  Most of us really want to support vets; this book shows how.  It claims to be neither anti-war nor pro-war, but any logical person with an open mind could not be pro-war after reading it.

This song kept running through my mind as I read:

"Hero of War" by Rise Against

On Civil War

There is a war taking place today in Oregon. Sides have been chosen, and changing sides is tantamount to treason. Uniforms have been donned, and participants have geared up for battle. And like other recent wars, many will watch this war from the comfort of home on a TV set, far removed, and numbingly remote, from the reality.
This “war” is a college football game here in Oregon, between two rivals, called a “civil war.” I hate the term “civil war” when it is used to describe something as trivial as a college football game. It trivializes the true horrors of war itself. To anyone who has actually been in combat, or lived in a war zone, it’s no game. There’s no buzzer sounding the end of “play.” I admit that “civil war” sounds catchy, but there has got to be a better term than this. It’s insensitive and socially irresponsible.

Frankly, we continually trivialize war in our culture. We declare war on drugs, crime, poverty, and homelessness, but it hasn’t gotten us far. It seems when we “declare war,” there’s an implication that the “experts” (soldiers) are in charge, leaving us to cheer them on. There is no sense of societal responsibility. Compare the concept of “declaring war on poverty,” to “working together to end poverty,” or even “to eradicate” or “to dismantle” poverty. We don’t change norms or better society in any way by “declaring war” on anything. All that does is declare that it’s bad, not proactively work together to fix it.

As George Carlin accurately observed, “we are a warlike people.” Some tribal societies that we smugly refer to as “primitive,” are far more peaceful than we. Even the games their children play are based more on cooperation than competition because they understand that working together ensures their survival. In our society, we not only win, we “beat” the other person or team, we “kick ass.” We crush, kill, annihilate, destroy, and defeat the other team. I bet you can come up with at least a half dozen violent verbs of your own. That mindset of might seems to permeate our foreign policy as well.  As a result, other than a few isolated terror incidents, we are the aggressors. We spend more on weapons of death than all other countries combined, and attack other nations with impunity. We also have tens of thousands of handgun related deaths annually in our country, as compared to a few dozen at the most in other countries. It’s not the guns that are the problem; it’s us.

It’s easy to trivialize something that isn’t in our faces on a daily basis. Right now we are at war in the Middle East. For the majority of Americans, it’s entirely possible to tune out this fact, other than brief (and slanted) updates on the evening news. After all, our houses are not being bombed; our loved ones are not being killed with drones, and generally we can send our children to school in the morning with a reasonable expectation that they will not be killed in a school bus bombing that day. Our houses are not being razed, and loved ones not being dragged out in the middle of the night and detained. Nope, that’s all happening somewhere else. That makes it very easy to see war as something much smaller than it is, even as we fund the carnage with our tax dollars.

As for the Civil War, after which these college rivalry games are often named, there is no history book or movie that can adequately describe its horrors. Men died at the end of bayonets held by their own brothers. It is arguably the most shameful, grisly, horrific period of U.S. history, along with the slave trade which characterized that era. A disproportionate number of those fighting and dying were poor, many of them newly freed slaves. Referring to any game as a “civil war” glorifies this national tragedy, while trivializing its lasting impact. War is not a game, and a game is not war.

It’s a slap in the face to our veterans, to survivors of war crimes, and to those who have been killed, maimed, displaced, raped, orphaned, or trafficked because of war. I’ve studied this topic extensively, enough to be ashamed at the minimization of the suffering by the mainstream media. If everyone saw the pictures, and read the stories of the magnitude of the human suffering caused by our need to dominate, we would not be calling anything war that isn’t war.  And don't even get me started on video games that glorify war, and desensitize kids to violence.

I realize that some will read this with rolling eyes. This may be seen as some liberal, overly sensitive, overly PC, whining rant. If that is your perception, I would like to remind you that where the REAL war is happening, there aren’t party snacks and tailgate parties, no “after-game” celebrations. Just the groans and screams of the wounded and the grieving, and the silence of death.

War is Not a Game by Bill Durston

A Tragic Death

Once again, I had planned to write a post about my blog: what peace means to me, etc.  And once again, life has interfered, with pressing matters of great importance.  First, a military general cheated on his wife, resulting in humiliation for his justifiably furious wife.  Not only does she have to deal with his heartless betrayal, but she is contending with the very public dissection of her marriage and her husband’s behavior, by a salivating media.  Then, individuals in several states decided to secede from the U.S. and have filed petitions on the White House website.  I’m not even going to comment on that.  But then, today, the unkindest cut of all.  That’s right, Hostess Brand has ceased production of all products and is liquidating its assets.  And, I’m sorry to say, this means the end of Twinkies.

Aspersions have been cast on union bakers, who went on strike last weekend.  That’s right, a five day strike by bakers has brought an American icon to its knees.  Okay, that’s not really true.

Hostess actually filed for bankruptcy in 2004; then in August of 2011, they stopped paying into employee retirement to cut costs.  They filed for bankruptcy again in January of this year.  Recently, they announced that they planned to cut employee wages by 8%.  But it’s all the union’s fault.  Really.

Anyway, I decided to start baking my own Twinkies, so I looked up the list of ingredients:  Enriched wheat flour, sugar, niacin, water, high fructose corn syrup, vegetable and/or animal shortening - containing one or more of partially hydrogenated soybean, cottonseed, and canola oil, and beef fat, dextrose, whole eggs, modified corn starch, cellulose gum, whey, leavenings (sodium acid pyrophosphate, baking soda, monocalcium phosphate), salt, cornstarch, corn flour, corn syrup, solids, mono and diglycerides, soy lecithin, polysorbate 60, dextrin, calcium casein ate, sodium stearoyl lactylate, wheat gluten, calcium sulphate, natural and artificial flavors, caramel color, yellow #5, red #40. 

Sounds delicious!  Nothing I can’t obtain from the hardware store and a chemical lab.  No wonder there are urban legends about the eternal shelf life of Twinkies!  I suspect the only survivors in a nuclear holocaust will be cockroaches and Twinkies.  Of course the cockroaches will eat the Twinkies, then it will be down to just the Twinkies.  But I digress… To tell the truth, I’m not a big Twinkie fan.  I’ve eaten a few in moments of sugar desperation, and immediately regretted it.  But if you are a fan of Hostess products, now is the time to buy!  Stock up; they’ll last forever.  Or wait until the next corporation buys out the product and buy it under a different name. 

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I’d say this highly-publicized closure was a ploy to get people to buy more Hostess products; it seems to be working, judging by the collective public outrage in social and mainstream media.  And it IS an outrage!  We Americans DESERVE our horrible, nutritionally empty junk food!!  The internet has been filled with memes of Twinkies that look like caskets, complete with birth and death dates, sad commentary, and plenty of talk about socialism.  We know what matters here in America, and this is important stuff, right?

In other news, for every minute it took you to read this blog, between 12 and 18 children died from hunger.  15 million children die of hunger each year, and one in four U.S. children go to bed hungry each night.  Don’t see much talk about that…

Veteran's Day

I intended for my first blog post to be about the new blog. But Monday is Veteran’s Day, an important day to me. The main theme of my blog is peace, and for too many veterans and their families, there is no peace; not when the fighting stops, not ever.

Eighteen veterans commit suicide each day in the United States. A staggering number for a population that was promised that they would “be all that you can be,” that they were “the few and the proud,” and that they would get an education and career, see the world, etc. Seems like such a group would be anything but suicidal, doesn’t it… yet eighteen per day choose to escape their pain by taking their own lives.

I can’t imagine the disillusionment they must feel. They enlist in the hopes of having a better life, then find out what war REALLY looks like, and I’m sure they must question why, in the big scheme of things, taking the lives of fellow human beings is going to make us a better country, or somehow freer.

Then they come home, many of them psychologically and/or physically wounded. And to what? Broken marriages and families, very little governmental or societal support, even foreclosed homes. A recent statistic shows 25% of them have serious PTSD; it is believed that this is a low number, because the culture of the military does not encourage people to reach out and ask for professional help.

Ask a vet who has suffered from the effects of Agent Orange how long it took the government to stop sweeping it under the rug. Victims were pooh-poohed, reports were suppressed, and every effort was made to avoid accountability for what they were suffering. We have seen a repeat with Desert Storm vets; what a sad irony that our own chemical weapons are killing our own soldiers. We seem to have plenty of money to kill and maim people, yet our veteran’s services providers continue to work in shabby little back offices on a shoestring budget. It is our national shame

Since only 2% of the general population is psychotic and actually enjoys killing, it stands to reason that most people don’t enlist so they can leave their loved ones behind and go kill people. There are many reasons people enlist, but it seems a big factor is the “poverty draft,” in which people enlist because they feel they have no other economic option. You don’t see a lot of wealthy people joining the military; that's someone else's job. If legislators and their families were required to do military service, you would see a skyrocket in services to vets.

To be fair, some people build a good career in the military, but even then, there are challenges translating their combat experience into civilian job skills. I recently watched an interview with two combat medics who couldn’t get a nursing job in the civilian world, because they didn’t have the certifications. These are folks who had performed life-saving surgeries and worked triage in the most extreme of circumstances. The fact that our government has not adequately addressed this is another example of not supporting the troops.

As a peace activist, I am often questioned about whether I support our troops, and of course, my patriotism has been questioned. I think often about what it means to “support the troops.” For me, “the troops” includes my grandpa, my dad, the ones currently fighting, and the ones who are now stateside, still fighting their own very real demons, as well as their families. It includes all those enlisted who wish they hadn't, all those who have died, and left behind loved ones who have never been given answers.  I support the troops in the way I would support a wayward child running with a bad crowd. I wish they didn’t make that sad choice to enlist, but I do understand why. I don’t like what they are doing, but I want them to be okay, and will do whatever I can to help. Once the choice is made, they are often changed forever and need all the support they can get. Supporting the troops does not mean supporting war,contrary to popular belief. I’d like to
see our lawmakers start supporting our troops. And how does trying to create peace NOT support the troops?

While Veteran’s Day ceremonies are nice, and make everyone feel good for an hour or so, they don’t do a whole lot for that scruffy homeless guy with an empty stomach who is standing in front of Fred Meyer. Maybe he didn‘t have a ride to the ceremony, or maybe didn‘t want to watch while people waved flags and glorified the war that destroyed his life… who knows. But he served his country too. He is just trying to get through the day. As a community band member, I played patriotic music at many of those events, and I always left feeling empty. It also does NOT support our troops to keep dreaming up more wars to send them to. So how can we support our troops? I have a few ideas:

Bring them home.
Better services and resources for their medical, housing, counseling, and other needs.
Deprogramming and support around learning to reach out for help and assimilate back into their communities after trauma.
Thank them! (and that includes that scruffy, homeless guy in front of Fred Meyer, and not just on Veteran's Day).
End the wars.
Fight to have our bloated military budget (58% of federal discretionary spending) reduced, and those monies re-allocated to programs that help vets and their families, and those in poverty to be self-sufficient without having to enlist.
Talk with them, but also respect their right not to talk about it.
Work for peace, so our military can protect our country here at home, which by the
way, was the intention of our founding fathers.
ASK THEM what they want.
Vote out of office those who do not support bills that support vets.
Sign petitions and stand with vets whose homes are being foreclosed.

These are just my ideas; I'm sure my veteran friends have more.  I don't presume to speak for them.  But I like my list better than just lip service.  What do you think??

Right now in my community, there is a program that is directly helping vets (and their families) who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. For more information or to help, call CARE at 503-842-5261. CARE is also seeking volunteers for their warming center, which gives those living outside a safe, warm place to sleep during inclement weather.

There are Veterans For Peace chapters all over the place, including right here in Tillamook County. You don’t have to be a vet to join and support. Most vets are not beating the war drums, despite what the media may tell you, because they have already lived the horror and know the truth.

My son has a young friend who enlisted, basically due to the poverty draft. I stand peace vigil every Friday night on a street corner in my hometown, and whenever he drives by, he cheers for me and thanks me. I have stood with veterans at peace vigil and they know the truth: that true patriotism is wanting what is best for our country, and working to obtain it, not blindly blasting cannons at every problem at the expense of our young people.

This Veteran’s Day, let’s remember all the vets, honor them in the ways they wish to be honored, and make it a goal to improve the quality of all veterans’ lives by ending the wars.

Close the Camps

A couple of days ago I packed up my sister and my kiddos and attended a rally in support of closing the camps on the southern border of ...